by Andrea Warren
Houghton Mifflin, 2011
I enjoy reading the works of Charles Dickens. I will admit here on this blog that “A Tale of Two Cities” is my favorite of his many books. I believe it has the best opening paragraph of any book I’ve ever read (Well, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud runs a very close second) The fact that the paragraph is one sentence impressed me when Mrs. Young, my high school English teacher, read it aloud to us, and it still does today.
What is so funny is that in all these years since my first introduction to Dickens, I never knew about his childhood and how it influenced his writings. He made a tremendous impact on his society during, and after, the time he was alive.
This biography by Andrea Warren does a fine job of informing readers of that connection between his childhood trauma and his writing.
The first ten years of his life, Dickens had a very comfortable existence. His idyllic childhood ended abruptly at age 12. His father was in debt and sent to Marshalsea Prison. Charles went to work as a laborer in a factory that made the black polish for boots.
“Dickens’ job was to sit at a little table and tie string around small jars filled with blacking then paste a label on each one – tedious, repetitive tasks that he performed for ten hours a day, six days a week.”
Relief came after his grandmother died and left his father enough money to allow him to settle his debts.
While working in a law office, Dickens began his career as a writer. The Pickwick Papers was published in nineteen installments in 1846 and 1837.
“Londoners loved The Pickwick Papers. To Dickens’ amazed delight, readers were of every class. The highborn read it in the comfort of their elegant homes or private clubs, and the poorest pooled their pennies to buy a copy of each periodical and find someone to read it to them.”
Though this biography is mainly about the impact his books had on changing British society, the author does include Dickens’ strained relations with his wife and children.
Many interesting quotes are well placed throughout the book, as are prints and photos. It really is a good introduction to the celebrated author.
Warren also includes information on child labor, from Dickens time to the present, as well as ways readers can make a difference. This tome is well researched. Recommended web sites, selected bibliography and works consulted, along with documentation of quotes and an index are included. What I didn’t see in the Advanced Reading Copy was a timeline. I’m a big fan of timelines.
This was a readable biography. I don’t think children will be standing in line to check it out, but I do think if someone needs to read a biography for a class project, or you find someone interested in the author, this book is a good one to recommend.
(Grades 8 up)
Learn more about the author at www.andreawarren.com